JERUSALEM (Apr. 8)
While the Israeli government ponders how it can provide humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds fleeing to Turkey after the collapse of their uprising against Saddam Hussein, peace activist Abie Nathan says he is prepared to act.
Nathan, who has organized relief for starvation and natural disaster victims all over the world, said in a television interview Sunday night that he is going to Turkey to find out what kind of aid is required and how he can get to the people who need it most.
Nathan has already made a personal contribution of $25,000 to purchase food and medical supplies for Iraqi refugee relief.
It came from advertising revenues earned by his Voice of Peace radio station, a ship anchored outside Israeli territorial waters which has been broadcasting peace messages and pop music to Israel and Arab countries for more than 20 years.
The peace activist, who has often embarrassed Israeli officialdom by his outspokenness and attention-getting tactics, seems to have spurred the government to seek ways to help.
Dr. Yossi Olmert, director of the Government Press Office, told foreign correspondents Sunday that if Israel could help the Kurdish refugees, “we would do it with enthusiasm.”
But Olmert, an expert on Iraq, said the lack of a common border with Turkey or northern Iraq is an obstacle to Israeli relief efforts.
Nevertheless, Kupat Holim, Histadrut’s health care agency, informed the Health Ministry on Monday that it is prepared to send a team of doctors and nurses to assist Kurdish refugees stranded in Turkey.
PRESSURE FROM KURDISH ISRAELIS
There is strong pressure on the government as well from Israel’s large community of Jews from Kurdistan. A delegation of them was assured Monday by Foreign Minister David Levy that the government would arrange to send emergency supplies to the Kurdish refugees.
Levy promised the delegation he would try to arrange a meeting for them to discuss the subject with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who arrived here Monday evening.
President Bush last week ordered U.S. Air Force transports to parachute food and medical supplies to the Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq. The airlift, which began Sunday, followed mounting pressure on the White House to act to relieve people in desperate straits.
American Jewish organizations, including the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council and B’nai B’rith International, joined the chorus of public appeals late last week. Some accused Bush of abandoning the Kurds after urging them to mount a revolt against Saddam Hussein.
In a letter delivered to the president Monday, the American Jewish Congress urged Bush to ask for immediate action by the U.N. Security Council “to save the lives of thousands of Kurdish refugees who are fleeing the terror and vengeance of Saddam Hussein.”
The letter, signed by AJCongress President Robert Lifton and its executive director, Henry Siegman, reminded Bush their organization supported his efforts to mobilize the world community to counter Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait.
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Committee also issued statements Monday calling on the Bush administration and the international community to step up efforts to protect the Kurdish people.
And the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee announced it was establishing an “open mailbox” to provide humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees.
Donations may be sent to Open Mailbox for Kurdish Refugees, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 711 Third Ave, 10th floor, New York, N.Y. 10017.
‘SMELL OF BLOOD CRIES OUT’
Statements of concern about the plight of the Kurds were also issued by Jewish leaders in Germany and the Netherlands.
In Bonn, Heinz Galinski, chairman of the German Jewish community, issued a statement calling on the German government to aid the refugees and support the political aspirations of the Kurdish people.
In the Netherlands, three Jewish congregations and the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel issued a joint statement condemning the Iraqi aggression against the Kurds and urging the Dutch government to admit as many refugees as possible.
In Geneva, David Littman, a representative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, sent a strongly worded letter to the U.N. undersecretary-general for human rights, Jan Martenson, urging the United Nations to provide immediate support to the Kurdish refugees.
“Today the smell of blood cries out to heaven” as the “tyrant of Baghdad” oppresses the Kurdish people, and meanwhile the U.N. Commission on Human Rights remains silent, wrote Littman.
“Silence now, and no sign of any action whatsoever, would brand the U.N. as an accomplice of tyranny and, God forbid, to the genocide of a people who have knocked on the door of history” for the past 70 years in vain, he wrote.
Here in Israel, peace activist Nathan said that his past experiences cast doubt on air drops as the best way to get supplies to the people who need them. He said he had personally witnessed refugees stampeding to the drop site, where the strong fought the weak for supplies, even killing children in the process.
Often, the strong gained possession of the food and other supplies, which they sold later at inflated prices, Nathan said.
UPRISING MAY HAVE SAVED HUSSEIN
Olmert of the press office denied reports that Kurdish leaders had visited Israel recently seeking military support. He also said the Kurdish experience was further proof that a nation can rely only on itself for security.
Ofra Bengio of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center offered a different twist on the Iraqi situation. She told a news conference here that the Kurdish and Shi’ite Moslem uprisings may have saved Hussein from being overthrown by his own army and the Sunni Moslems in Iraq.
“If the Sunni elite had not felt so threatened by the rebellion, they might have toppled the government,” said Bengio, who has just written a book on the Iraqi Kurds.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents David Kantor in Bonn, Henrietta Boas in Amsterdam and Tamar Levy in Geneva.)